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Making boating safer for other people

Published on July 11th, 2022

Billy Keyserling says he has a new perspective on life after nearly drowning in a sailing accident, and new mission: promoting CPR training.

Keyserling was basically a goner when people reached him after the cat boat he and his brother Paul capsized, sending both men into the Beaufort River.

“I was blue,” said Keyserling, former mayor of Beaufort, South Carolina. “My eyes were just sort of staring into nowhere. Totally unresponsive to anything. No pulse. But that team just wouldn’t quit.”

Or at least that’s what he’s told. Keyserling doesn’t remember people pulling him from the river, rushing him to land and resuscitating him.

“No pain,” notes Keyserling, 74. “No struggle, no memories of anything.”

That team — passersby in two motorboats, including, luckily, a nurse, and later firefighters and EMTs are credited with bringing Keyserling back from the brink.

Keyserling doesn’t remember anything other than going sailing and getting ready to race his cat boat. But when the gaff rig became twisted in a line, part of the sail went one way, part of the sail went the other way, and an unexpected huge gust of wind was too much to manage.

He remembers the boat being on its side and halfway underwater. Keyserling said he went under to try to grab a line with the thought that he could give the line to one of the boats that had arrived to help. “And that’s the last thing I remember until I woke up in the hospital.”

Keyserling, a life-long Beaufort resident, says he’s been recreating on the water alone since he was 7 and never has been trained in CPR, despite seeing countless advertisements for training over the years.

“Had I been in the power boat and come across the distressed sailor who was in my condition, would I have been equipped to do what they did for me?” he says.

As a result of his experience, Keyserling says he plans to promote the idea of bringing boaters together, perhaps once a year, for CPR training. It’s criminal, he says, that “we have this water and we use it but we’re not aware of what it can do — and what we can do to make it safer for other people.”


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